WASHINGTON — Pratt & Whitney President Bob Leduc was all smiles Wednesday standing in front of the company’s future — a shiny new “PurePower Geared Turbofan Engine” or GTF — on display on Capitol Hill. The engine, which took the company 20 years and $10 billion to take from idea to reality, drew a steady stream of sweaty lawmakers and staff into the July heat.
Sitting on a flatbed truck, politicians joined Pratt & Whitney workers and suppliers for pictures with the engine that most recently was on display at the Paris Air Show. Pratt is manufacturing the engines at factories in Middletown, Connecticut and North Palm Beach, Florida. They’ve got orders now for more than 8,000 from about 80 customers worldwide.
“We need both facilities to keep up,” Leduc said.
The company has added 4,500 new employees over the last 18 months and expects that the number of new hires will rise to 25,000 by 2025. Much of the increase is due to the commercial GTF — with an estimated lifetime value of $500 billion for the company — but also to supply the military with engines for the F-35.
“It is work for years and years to come,” says Michael O’Connor, a final assembly inspector in Middletown, who has been with the company for 37 years. “They are hiring every day.”
William Greenwood, a final assembly mechanic at the Middletown plant, agrees that the engine is “definitely the future,” offering better fuel efficiency, lower emissions, and less noise.
U.S. Rep. John Larson, whose district includes East Hartford and Middletown, was effusive in praising the company and its workers as he enjoyed showing off the engine to colleagues from Colorado and Florida.
“It’s Made-in-America Week, so the timing couldn’t be better,” he said. “What an extraordinary exhibit of government investment — innovation and technology — and the incredible work of people at United Technologies and Pratt & Whitney in particular.”
Beyond pure show, the engine display gives Pratt and the Connecticut delegation tangible evidence that government investments in research and development can have huge payoffs. In this case it was a NASA research and development grant that got the ball rolling. And as they seek to make new hires, the company is depending on federal workforce training dollars to get qualified employees.
“The biggest thing we can do to help is to fight President Trump’s proposed cuts to the Department of Labor. Those labor dollars will ultimately help us fill these jobs,” said Sen. Chris Murphy. “It’s a good problem for us to have in Connecticut.”
Murphy noted that we are seeing “the re-industrialization of Connecticut” happen before our eyes.
“There are very few states that have this kind of industrial capacity being added — especially in the Northeast,” he said. “You occasionally get a big new auto plant coming into a southern state, but to have 3,000 jobs being added to Electric Boat and 2,500 to Pratt & Whitney, and thousands more to the supply chain, that only happens once every couple of decades.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he was proud to show off the engine to his colleagues.
“I can talk a lot about the Pratt & Whitney engine here but a picture is worth a thousand words in describing the workmanship, skill, and dedication of this company and its people,” he said.
The Pratt engine has been certified for use on narrow-body aircraft manufactured by Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, Irkut, and Mitsubishi. It is now powering over 70 aircraft and has flown over 200,000 miles, according to John Renehan, head of marketing for Pratt.
“One of the most exciting things about this engine is that it is 16 percent better on fuel, 50 percent on emissions, and 75 percent quieter than the previous generation of engines,” Renehan said.
Loren Thompson, an aerospace expert writing for Forbes, says the GTF engine gives the company a performance advantage over rivals General Electric and Rolls Royce that will likely make it the dominant global provider of jet engines through mid-century.
“The basic idea behind the GTF design is to introduce 3:1 reduction gears on the shaft between the fan at the front of the engine and rotating elements (compressors and turbines) in the rear so that each component turns at optimum speed,” he wrote at Forbes.
Thompson noted that many states will benefit from the Pratt engine, which now purchases about 80 percent of parts from a carefully monitored supply chain of small- and medium-sized companies — especially in the Midwest. The company spends about $600 million annually for parts made domestically and that figure will likely rise to over $1 billion in the near future, he said.